Friday, July 12, 2013
Fact-checking Sharknado: Could a tornado really suck up sharks?
OK, the fact that we’re fact-checking this movie is questionable. Go with me.
Only on an uneventful evening in the summer would a made-for-TV movie called Sharknado make a splash. The Syfy channel movie followed a band of beach bums (including American Pie actress Tara Reid) who fell victim to a tornado over the ocean that sucked sharks into its vortex and flung them – jaws chomping – onto land.
Sharknado was packed to the gills with terrible one-liners and low-budget effects. But it was too bad to turn off, and Twitter followers watching the #Sharknado stream were treated to a feeding frenzy. Twitter reports more than 5,000 #Sharknado tweets were posted per minute at its peak – resulting in more than 80 Sharknado-related tweets per second.
So, could a Sharknado really happen? I asked my friend Emily Sutton, meteorologist for KFOR in Oklahoma City.
The likelihood of a tornado over the water – called a water spout – picking up dozens or even hundreds of sharks is slim. But, water spouts have picked up hundreds of fish and flung them miles away, like in an incident in a small Australian town in 2010.
“Freaky things happen because of tornadoes all the time. Hundreds of sharks? I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Sutton said.
It might be possible to pick up a shark, maybe two, she said, with the right weather patterns.
SHARKNADO - Official Asylum Trailer
The problem with Sharknado’s plot is that a water spout is typically a “low-end” tornado, which means it carries weak winds. In a very strong, on-land tornado, such as an EF4 or EF5, tornadoes have picked up cars and cows, for instance. But if the tornadoes in Sharknado started over water, it’s unlikely that they had enough power to suck up dozens of sharks. (And we won’t even go into science and statistics behind some of the other plot twists, like the one shark that coincidentally swallowed two main characters.)
The only way this made-for-TV Sharknado could scientifically happen is if an EF4 or EF5 tornado hit an on-land aquarium, Sutton suggested. “Then you’d have a high likelihood of flying sharks and various aquatic creatures,” she said.Follow @sblaskovich
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